Weren, Wim. "Chapter Three: The History and Social setting of the Matthean Community." in Van de Sandt, Huub (editor). Matthew and the Didache: Two Documents from the Same Jewish-Christian Milieu? Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005, 51-62.
In this paper, Weren seeks out the history and setting of Matthew's Gospel, a task made difficult due to the lack of external witness (Weren 2005, 51). He identifies the "community" as not necessarily one local group, but likely a number of groups, possibly spread out geographically, which share substantial agreement. Rather than focusing on the period around A.D. 80, when many critical scholars would identify a final phase of redaction, he looks at three phases of construction (Weren 2005, 52). First, he considers a period prior to 70 and a community mostly identified as Jews. Second, he studies the period between 70 and 80, as the group would consider themselves Jewish Christians. Third, he looks at final redactional moves as the Christians associate with many non-Jews. Weren acknowledges that the boundaries among these times are not clear.
In the first period of development, Weren considers the Christians to have been largely associated with their Jewish heritage and community. During this period, he takes the community to have focused on the sayings of Jesus, particularly those which were not later found in the other canonical gospels (Weren 2005, 53). Matters such as temple customs were familiar and considered normal. Weren refers us, for example, to Matthew 4:5; 17:24-27; 5:23-24; 5:17-19; 23:23; and 6:1-18. The community focused evangelism toward other Jews and would expect the return of Jesus (10:6, 23). Weren takes this to reflect a condition prior to the destruction of the temple. While Weren would consider various possible locations, the action seems to be centered in Capernaum or Galilee.
After the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, Jewish life was necessarily changed. Weren sees this as a time of "urgent reorientation" (Weren 2005, 55). There was a rise in the importance of the rabbinic culture, which worked for unity and a Jewish identity, even without temple worship. Weren considers this to be the period in which conflict would have arisen between the Christians and the Pharisees, who would now be linked with the scribes. In these passages of Matthew, the Pharisees are depicted very negatively. Weren does note that the concept may not have been invented by the Christians. "The Christian Jews knew themselves backed by Jesus, who had also disputed Pharisaic interpretations of the Torah on a number of points" (Weren 2005, 55). The Christians therefore emphasized the power and authority of Jesus, over against the claims of Pharisees who sought to strengthen and purify the Jewish people. Weren observes that the two opposing groups were both intent on using Scripture to assert their points of view and considered that they were rooted in right tradition (Weren 2005, 56). Because of the conflict with the Pharisees, the Christians were separating from the mainstream of Judaism. Weren sees the Christians placing leaders in roles which might be parallel to Jewish people. For instance, rather than the scribes, who would ensure fidelity, Peter's apostolic role carries a preaching and teaching authority which would assure orthodoxy (Weren 2005, 57). Weren notes a geographical shift at this time as well, with Christians tending to move from lower Galilee to upper Galilee, where there was less influence of the Pharisees.
Weren moves on to the third phase of development, about 80-90 A.D., as Christian Jews tend to build relationships with a broader range of Christian communities (Weren 2005, 58). Here the terminology is important. For instance, Weren notes "among Jews" rather han "the" Jews. He also finds "their synagogues" as opposed to "my church." Further, "In 8:11-12, the expression, 'the children of the kingdom' is an honorary name for the people of Israel, but in 13:38 this appellation is attributed to the followers of Jesus" (Weren 2005, 59). The Christians have appropriated terminology of being God's chosen people. At this time, Weren considers the community to have begun drawing in material from Q and Mark which would speak to a mission to the world, as opposed to Jewish communities. The movement has become more cosmopolitan in nature. There is a decreased emphasis on the Jewish laws, along with a greater emphasis on Jesus for all nations (Weren 2005, 60). Elements such as worship using the Lord's Supper, the Lord's prayer, and application of baptism took precedence, as the group was more clearly distinct from its Jewish heritage. With this new identity, an awareness of false prophets and the danger of false teaching was increasing (Weren 2005, 61). This can be explained by the proliferation of traveling prophets.